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Published: July 11th 2018
An early morning wake up to catch the train to Mt Fuji. After two trains to arrive at Gotemba station, I had already received two random acts of kindness from the generosity of Japanese locals. From Gotemba, I caught a bus to Subashiri 5th station (red trail). I arrived to start climbing at 8:30a.m. I pledged my donation and away I went, from a starting elevation of 2000m. The first point of interest, Komitake Shrine, the up through the tree lined forest, it was moist and mossy. The lush foliage was beautiful and cool, unlike the predicted 28 degree forecast at the fifth station. It was pleasant and not too challenging up until the new 6th station.
Alas, the ease with which I started the trail was soon over, with every additional step and every station, the air became thinner and fatigue kicked in. After the seventh station, the challenge increased greatly. Breathing became more laboured and I was exhausted. Two Germans and two Australians who were on the bus left me in their dust. However, most of the Japanese were behind me, walking slowly and surely. There was a Canadian couple who I walked fairly steadily with until the
final station, when I lost them. It’s a wake up that I am not as young as I used to be and I guess I cannot climb like a mountain goat, like yesteryear.
I grazed regularly, hoping the food would give me sustenance, but the altitude was slowly giving me a headache and making me slightly dizzy throughout the last couple of stations. I stopped for a rest more than I have ever stopped on a hiking trail. Perhaps this was altitude, but not assisted by no training at all beforehand. It was a last minute decision to climb it. The last 200m were the hardest I think I have had to climb (other than when I had food poisoning in Nepal on the Annapurna Circuit from High Camp, but it was a much higher pass). I was so grateful to have finally made it to the summit and it only took me 6 hours, a big surprise for me, having walked so slowly and given I had stopped to rest and take in the view so many times.
Mount Fuji (富士山), known as Fujisan is the highest mountain in Japan at 3,776m and 7th-highest peak of an
island in the world. It is an active stratovolcano that last erupted in 1707–1708. There were dynamite explosions going off on the other side of the mountain. This was very disconcerting, whilst walking on a volcanic mountain, particularly when Japan had had a recent earthquake in Tokyo as well as floods and landslides to the west in the last week- there are many current weather-related disasters occurring in land of the rising sun.
Very conscious of the time to get back down to catch a bus then another bus to get back to Marcus in Gora (Hakone), I only rested for about fifteen minutes to eat and bask the sun. It was certainly not the 7-10 degrees I had been told to prepare for... more like 20 degrees in the sun. My view was obscured by cloud in front of me, but I had caught many glimpses of the summit and the valley below on the way up in between clouds and mist when the sun shine and the sky blue. It was a very strange contrast on the ascent, to look beyond the steep gradient of the volcanic rock upon which I was climbing, to beyond- a colourful
landscape of greens and blues to the valley below. I struggled to identify which way my phone should be held to take the photo- with the mountain of the distant hues.
Before leaving the summit, I sat at the Kusushi Shrine to marvel at the achievement of this climb. I took a quick look at the rim, which I would have loved to walk around, but I did not have 1.5 hours to spare, much less the additional energy to sustain myself on the descent. I had contemplated going around to the Gotemba trail and descending that way, but evidently it was all gravel and I was not sure my legs could cope with that hardship and hour extra, or that I would make the last bus.
So down I went with a rapid jog down volcanic gravel and sand, long strides sinking in, enabling long distances with every step. It was incredible how much faster it was to descend. The weather was variable throughout the descent, sometimes complete mist with 2m visibility (grateful for the rope to denote the edge of the slope), other time sunshine. I had experienced a light drizzle on the way up briefly,
enough to cool me from the heat my muscles were generating. I managed to stay on my feet for the majority of the return, only falling a few times. I was happy for the rest when I did. It gave me the opportunity to look up and see how the landscape had changed and where I was relative to the 5th station and the valley below.
The last hour was very hard. My legs the consistency of jelly, I struggled to walk forwards, diagonally and even backwards. Lactic acid had taken over my legs and every step for the last forty minutes a battle. I overtook an elderly man, perhaps 80 years, who had hiking poles. We were chatting, or attempting with his limits English and my near zero- Japanese. He said that he had walked the Subashiri three times and Fuji ten times... I was in awe. I could not imagine doing that again! Having said that, I had been on the Yoshida trail (yellow) in September 2015 when I came to Japan the first time, however, it was out of hiking season and I was only permitted to go up to the 6th station (from the 5th).
I can appreciate that curiosity to see and experience other trails and their diversity, but ten times?Anyway, I fatigued significantly, especially after he had said that it was only ten minutes left, then we saw a sign that read 40 minutes and I nearly died of disappointment. He marched on, leaving me in his dust. Deflated by the time and steps left, I found a stick for some psychological support and hobbled down the remainder of the trail. On return, there was more sad news... I had to wait fifty minutes for the next bus, which meant I was going to miss my 6:20p.m. bus to Gora.
Anyway, all stories have a silver lining. I made it back, saw a wild deer on the way, managed to get a bus and a lift to the door of our Ryokan with some locals, to find Marcus waiting at the front door with a big hug of congratulations!
I had time for a quick shower, an onsen (hot spring) bath, before our delicious traditional Japanese dinner. I was a wonderful reward to end a great day.
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